There has been a lot of interest in Sir Nicholas Winton, who organized the rescue of 669 children, mostly Jewish, from Czechoslovakia in 1939, ever since his story was broadcast on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago. His personal motto was, “If it’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
Getting those children out of harm’s way wasn’t impossible and Winton did it. He had to find British foster homes for all 669 of them, cut through red tape to ensure they could enter the United Kingdom, obtain financial guarantees for each one, and more. Winton took on the task as a volunteer. His trusted mother was recruited as one of his unpaid assistants. He not only didn’t ask for a salary for all his hard work – he didn’t even ask for recognition. The story of his efforts was all but lost to history.
The 60 Minutes segment reminded me of a book I had read years ago about one of his child rescuees: Vera Gissing. It’s called PEARLS OF CHILDHOOD and it’s one of the best books in the genre of World War II Holocaust memoirs.
Vera was a very happy Czech child, fiercely proud of her Czech heritage. Czechosolovakia had only become a republic in 1918, ten years prior to her birth, so the little girl was raised with an overabundance of pride in her newly-formed democratic country. The adults were thrilled to no longer be a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and have the chance to shine on its own. Vera had wonderful, loving parents, an older sister, Eva, and one of most loyal best friends, Marta, that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about in someone’s book.
Vera and Eva’s mother and father see the writing on the wall after the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia. They sign their children up for Winton’s Kindertransport. The girls spend the war years in exile in England, safe – but little Vera remains anguished at the unknown fate of their parents…
Marta promised Vera she would check in on her parents every day after Vera left on the Czech Kindertransport organized by Sir Nicholas Winton. She fulfilled that promise, even though it was dangerous for her, as a Christian child, to do so while the Nazis were running Czechoslovakia.
I won’t spoil the rest of this story for anyone who might want to read it. I just want to say that I highly recommend it. You’ll need to keep some Kleenex handy.
The 669 children that Sir Nicholas Winton saved now have children and grandchildren. To date, there are over 6,000 people alive on this planet because Sir Nicholas Winton “decided” he would help Czech children in need and stepped up to the plate at a time when nobody else did. Do you think one person can’t make a difference? Well, think again!
To find out more about Sir Nicholas Winton, there is a fantastic documentary about him called NICKY’S FAMILY. Here’s the trailer: